Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Cranes of Bellevue

I have a new piece in a show: The Cranes of Bellevue.

It's a diptych with total dimensions of 40" high x 33" wide inspired by the multitude of tower cranes throughout Bellevue. This piece shows a tiny fraction of the cranes. The title is intended to be a play on the many, many images of cranes we have all seen. We see flocks of Japanese cranes and multitudes of Origami cranes (a friend of mine had 1,000 gold ones at her wedding), so here is a collection of tower cranes to go with them.

The show is the annual member show of the Eastside Association of Fine Arts. The show is up from now through June 26th at Trilogy at Redmond Ridge. The show is at their Cascade Club (click for a map) and is open 10-5. There are plenty of nice pieces.

As always happens when a piece of mine is in a show, it's the only piece like it. I dropped the piece off on Friday and the opening was today. When I got there, I was disappointed to see that my piece had been hung wrong. I had left instructions attached to the back of one of the pieces, but they hadn't been followed. Instead, the two pieces had been positioned about 1" away from each other and the "open sky" in the upper right had been filled in by someone else's artwork. Not only did it ruin my piece, but it did the other piece a disservice as well to have it hemmed in by my piece on two sides. Luckily, I was able to find another (better) spot for the other piece and adjusted mine so it looked right.

When I do these pieces, one of the things I'm trying to accomplish is that it gives you three different senses -- from thirty feet, from five feet, and from up close. Fortunately, my piece is positioned in a spot where you can see it from thirty or forty feet away and I'm happy to say it works quite nicely.

The piece is brand new, so it had not previously been on a wall (the closest was leaned against my fireplace). I learned two things. First, I originally thought that the pieces should be farther apart (9" instead of 6"), but they felt too disconnected, so I moved them closer. Second, it needs to be high on the wall or the crane side doesn't feel enough like it's towering over you. I did move it higher, but not as much as I would have liked to.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Honoring the Fallen

Arlington West, Santa Monica California, July 3rd, 2005
On July 3rd, 2005, my family and I visited the Santa Monica Beach, where the Arlington West war memorial, a project of Veterans for Peace, is on display every Sunday, a sad, respectful memorial to the American troops who have fallen in Iraq. It was a somber and sobering place. Many, many of the markers had personal tokens and remembrances which had been carefully preserved by the people responsible for the memorial. Many more had fresh flowers or recent additions, showing the importance of the memorial to the loved ones of the soldiers.

When I returned home, I felt driven to create this montage as my own memorialization. I knew that it wasn't a montage I was likely to sell copies of. Nobody wants death in their living room. But, at one point, it was on display for several months in a Unitarian fellowship.

As you can see from the image, the death toll at the time was 1,745. It is now well over 4,000. That doesn't count the non-military workers, coalition forces, journalists, or suicides. And then there are more than 60,000 wounded. And all those numbers are dwarfed by the estimated million Iraqis who have died.

The warmongers in the White House would like to paint those against the war as "with the terrorists" or "against America." They believe that we have no right to disagree and that even the decorated veterans who sponsor something like Arlington West are dishonoring our armed forces. They are wrong.

We can remember and honor all the brave men and women who have sworn to defend this country, including those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, while at the same time disagreeing with the administration that started this illegal, unnecessary, and shameful war and sent our troops into harm's way. To truly honor them, we must ensure that their sacrifices are not vain.

Recently, President Bush told us that he's sacrificed too -- he's given up golf for the war. Now, he has asked for a moment of remembrance this Monday on Memorial Day. He announced that Major League Baseball games will pause and that the National Memorial Day parade will halt at 3PM, local time. How about a pause in the war?

To the veterans: Thank you for your service.
To the families: Thank you for your sacrifice.
To the administration: It's been five years. Bring our troops home.

Note: I will loan a copy of this piece to appropriate groups for display purposes. I will also sell copies of this piece at my cost to non-profit groups. All profits from any other sales are donated to peace organizations. Please contact me if you are interested in using this piece in any way.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Millions of People Hate Cilantro

It's amazing what you can find on the Internet. My wife found A whole community of other people who think that cilantro tastes like metal or soap. There are foods I like and foods I dislike, but there are very few foods that cause the reaction that cilantro does. If I even eat a little bit, my mouth will be irritated for hours. I'm constantly surprised at how incredulous people can be. They love it and can't imagine that not only do I dislike it, but that I can't tolerate even a little bit of it.

I posted a couple of haikus and a story on and thought I'd put them here as well. Haikus first.

Crazy cilantro
Why do people love you so?
You taste like metal.

Cilantro destroys
So much food I love to eat.
I wish it didn't.

My worst experience with cilantro was at a potluck dinner with a Thai theme. I knew that I would have to avoid most of the foods, but that's par for the course. But, I wasn't expecting what happened. I was in the kitchen while someone was preparing Coconut-Cilantro Soup and coconut happens to be something else I have a very strong reaction to (and may be allergic to). But a pot of boiling soup and even a very large bunch of cilantro sitting placidly on the counter seemed innocuous to me. And they were, until the cook tossed the cilantro into the boiling soup. The entire room filled with cilantro fumes and I could barely breathe. I rushed for the door and, of course, nobody but my wife had any idea what was going on.

I hate it when people think I'm "faking it." I have been indignantly served cilantro by people who know I am allergic, as if I could somehow eat it if I wanted to. But I can't -- my reaction to it is that strong. Would they do the same thing with someone allergic to peanuts?

To me, the most frustrating thing is that cilantro's overuse has made so much food that I love inaccessible. For example, it's difficult to find guacamole without it, which ruins a lot of Mexican food. I am constantly surprised by what will have cilantro in it, even when I have told a waiter or waitress that I am allergic.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Ponoko's Puzzle & Game Contest

Ponoko, an Internet laser cutting shop is in the midst of a Design Challenge for puzzles and games. I've been meaning for a while to look into doing a laser-cut version of my WIM game (below), so I made up a laser-cutting design for it and also created two other puzzles for the competition, one a brand new puzzle, the other a rework of a paper puzzle that I created a few years ago for the National Puzzlers' League convention.

I invented WIM a few years ago, inspired by my long-standing interest in ambigrams (you can see several "Roy" ambigrams in the header of this blog). I created the first version with a Sharpie and blank wooden tiles. After play-testing and some tweaks, the next version was created with a better grade of wooden tiles and transparent labels run through my laser printer. It took many hours to put the sets together, but they look very professional, as you can see in the picture.

WIM is in the "word tiles" family of games. In WIM, key tiles can be read in more than one direction, sometimes as different letters, which means you can play words "every which way." Scoring is similar to games like Scrabble, but there is no board and players receive bonuses for using a previously played tile as a letter it wasn’t used as previously, for changing the orientation of a word, or for using all seven tiles on their rack in a single play.

The picture above shows a partial game. You could probably immediately see the words NIECE, ZEBRA, and JAY, but, given that monitors don't rotate, it may take a little to read everything else. Tilt your head one way for DOZES and the other way for SKIS, FOOTING, and COP. Reading upside down, you can find HUBBY, DOVE, and EONS. Trust me, it works a lot better on a table than on a monitor.

WIM isn't the first game that I've invented, but it was the first that I actually think is good. I'm looking into doing a small run of WIM on Ponoko. Stay tuned for that.

Next up: Word Dominoes. In this puzzle, you get a set of 20 dominoes that look a lot like regular dominoes, except they have words instead of pips. The dominoes combine, in pairs, to form phrases and compounds words. Lay out the dominoes to make a solid rectangle, five words wide by eight words high, in which all connected dominoes form phrases and compound words. There is only one solution.
Finally, there's Puzzle Coasters, a completely new puzzle consisting of a set of jigsaw-puzzle shaped coasters with letters on them. My goal was to make an attractive "coffee table puzzle" -- one you could leave out and have fun just playing with, but also one with a real, relatively difficult challenge built in. You can use them as coasters or combine them to form words, as shown below. Or, arrange them to form a 4x4 double word square, which I'm relatively sure can only be done in one way. If people are interested in getting sets of coasters, I might make some.

Unfortunately, none of my puzzles made it into the finals of the contest. I was actually a little surprised at some that did make it. Here are my thoughts on the ones that made it, plus some that didn't. To see the entries I'm talking about, go here. You can see just the 17 finalists, on the Ponoko blog.

Zen - Clever, well executed, but not a puzzle. I do think it works as a solitaire game (what interesting shapes can I make?)
Portrait Puzzle - Clever and attractive use of halftoning (could be beautiful when finished), but not really a puzzle since the spiral means that any piece's location can be determined pretty much independently. Had this been done with the diamond shapes of the Zen puzzle (it's the same designer), it could have been a devilishly clever and fun puzzle, especially if the cut lines came between halftone dots.
Ponoku Anyone - Personally, I think it's silly. If there are no givens, it may be unsolvable, or there may be many solutions.
Marble Madness - One of the best ideas, but the question is how well the construction actually works.
Tessa - Nice use of the tessellations, but it's neither a puzzle nor a game. To make it a puzzle, the shape should have morphed from edge to edge like Escher frequently did.
Underground Maze - Interesting and original, though clearly not a difficult puzzle.
Crane Mobile and Pteradactyl - I like these very much as kids toys, especially if no other materials are required for assembly. But, I don't see them as either puzzles or games. More interesting would be a kit that you could make many things from. (btw, it's Ptero-, not Ptera-)
Layer Puzzle - One of the best puzzles here, but may be easier than it looks. This may be a puzzle you can solve again and again.
California County Puzzle - The "puzzle" part of this was provided by Ponoko. The rest doesn't do much for me.
Match the Typeface - I don't think this works. It's clearly for kids, but I think they'll be frustrated that the cutouts aren't deep enough to really hold the letters.
Build (h)and Share - I like this idea. Tolerances may be an issue for construction and solving.
Grimly Dominoes and Erik & Styx Double-sided Puzzle - Are Grimlies something famous that I don't know about? The dominoes don't interest me. The puzzle isn't much of a puzzle, especially with the large percentage of blank squares.
Puzzle Box - Nice idea. Clever description too. Again, the question is how well it actually works. And it looks very simple (though there may be components not shown that make it more complex).
InterlaceCircle - Also one of the best. Looks like fun. Could also be a repeat solve.
Gears - Interesting and Innovative idea. I'm concerned that it might not actually work because of the force applied to the 26 gears over the range of the entire puzzle. A puzzle with fewer gears and larger gear teeth might work better. Might work better as a set of puzzles rather than a single puzzle.

So, in my opinion, some great puzzles (and a few I wouldn't mind owning if they work out as well in final form as I think they will), and some duds. Here are the best puzzles that didn't make it (excluding my own :-)

Crocodile Ball - I'd like to see a photo of an actual puzzle, but it could be very interesting.
The One That Got Away - Yeah, it's a ripoff of a classic Sam Loyd puzzle (and hardly the first such ripoff), but it's well executed and would be fun, particularly for kids.
Dante's Icosahedron - Looks like a fun construction, though tolerances might be an issue for it to stay together.
Binary Dominoes - An interesting twist on dominoes. Might be fun to play upside down, where all you have is the binary edges (and especially so if you play "touch move"). Using triangles instead of squares for the bits might allow it to be more tolerant of tolerances.
Stacking Acrylic Puzzle - Very nice idea, but I think the need to glue pieces together is its downfall. It would also work better if it wasn't so uniform.
Catclump - Could be a great puzzle (but could also be made much more attractive).
Viking Journey - Nice puzzle in the genre of sliding block puzzles. Would be better if the set itself enforced non-rotation, as puzzles with rectangular shapes do.
Om Mani Padme Hum - I have no idea what that means and it's hard to tell how well this will work, but, if it does, it could be very, very cool.
Architext: a word-building game - I'm not sure about this one. The description sounds intriguing, but the illustration doesn't show enough.
Player Piano - OK, it's neither a game nor a puzzle, but it is cool. Would have been much better if everything was laser cut except the xylophone keys -- I see no reason why the hammers couldn't be laser cut wood. I suspect this is a design adapted from hand-cut wood that needed a little more adaptation.

Whodoku is out

Whodoku book cover
My first puzzle book, Whodoku - Sudoku with Personality is now out, published by Sterling Publishing. My inspiration for the book was some disappointment with sudoku puzzles. Unlike crosswords and many other puzzles, there is no overall point to a sudoku -- it's just numbers. When you were done, you were done. I wanted something that took it a step beyond that and came up with Whodoku.

Each puzzle starts with a trivia fact. For the middle puzzle on the cover (which is puzzle #1 in the book), the fact is "He represented _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ in the U.S. House". The blanks get filled in by the circled squares in the puzzle. If you figure out one of those words early, you can fill in the extra letters in the puzzle and get a leg up on the sudoku logic.

Next, the shaded letters drop down below the grid to provide the name of the person who fits the trivia fact. For puzzle #1, you'll see: _ E _ _ L _ and _ O _ _ stacked one above the other. In columns with more than one shaded letter, you'll have to figure out which letter goes in which blank. Again, if you figure out the name early, you can get a leg up on the logic. Some puzzles have extra hint letters like this one, but most do not. The puzzles get harder as you go through the book.

I hope you enjoy them!